This has been a particularly busy week for government announcements. Of course, you will all now be aware that our islands have been placed in the lowest tier of the government’s 3 tier system, effective from the end of the current lockdown restrictions on 2 December. You may even have heard the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care’s speech in which he offered thanks to everyone in Tier 1 areas for being so vigilant throughout the pandemic! I would like to echo this sentiment: I am truly proud of the lengths you are all going to, to keep the virus at bay. Extraordinarily, it is only the Isles of Scilly, Cornwall and the Isle of Wight who have been allocated to Tier 1: Medium Alert. Whilst this is welcome news for us locally, it is also a reminder that the alert levels everywhere else in the country remain either high or very high and we should continue to act with caution and keep ourselves appraised of all developments relating to the virus.
This morning I was interviewed by a correspondent from The Telegraph newspaper, who also congratulated us on managing to stay in Tier 1. We shall see tomorrow how much of my interview made the final cut, but I tried to convey that whilst the allocation is an excellent achievement, we cannot afford to relax into a false sense of security. At the same time, we have to follow national guidance which does allow some movement into Tier 1 areas including the Isles of Scilly. I also highlighted the need for any visitors travelling to the islands in the coming months to consider the fragility of our medical and lifeline services and plan accordingly before visiting the islands. I took the opportunity to thank our Public Health team based in Cornwall as well as our excellent local response teams and partners for their continued hard work. Finally, I thanked our loyal visitors who have gone to such lengths to ensure they do not inadvertently bring the virus with them, in some cases choosing to preventatively self-isolate before travelling here. It is always difficult to ensure the right message comes across in an interview, but I am hopeful that the feature will benefit the islands and make people aware of our particular island context.
The government released their Winter Plan on Monday, and it is well worth a read to give you an idea of the government’s overall strategy. The Prime Minister was clear in his announcement that the tier system following lockdown would be stricter in some respects than the one preceding lockdown and that the reason for introducing tougher tiers was to give the effort ‘one final push’ ahead of the expected arrival of vaccines and mass testing. With this in mind, I urge everyone to continue to act with caution despite our much-lauded Tier 1 allocation. Government will be reviewing the situation regularly - the first review date being in mid-December.
Perhaps the most eagerly anticipated news this week came on Tuesday when the government gave permission to form a ‘Christmas bubble’ between 23 and 27 December - and the extent to which the restrictions have been eased for this window certainly came as a bit of a surprise. You can read all about Christmas Bubbles at the following link:
The key messages are as follows:
- you can form an exclusive ‘Christmas bubble’ composed of people from no more than three households
- you can only be in one Christmas bubble
- you cannot change your Christmas bubble
- you can travel between tiers and UK nations for the purposes of meeting your Christmas bubble
- you can only meet your Christmas bubble in private homes or in your garden, places of worship, or public outdoor spaces
- you can continue to meet people who are not in your Christmas bubble outside your home according to the rules in the tier where you are staying
- you cannot meet someone in a private dwelling who is not part of your household or Christmas bubble
Despite the clear permissiveness of this announcement, government and their advisers were careful to state that this should not be considered a free-for-all, but rather a chance for families and friends to spend some much-needed time together, whilst still being mindful of the risk of spread. We must, therefore, continue to weigh up our need to relax and see loved ones with keeping our community safe.
Everyone involved in the pandemic response has spent this week assessing what the local implications of all of these announcements will be. It’s fair to say that we don’t yet have all the answers, but we will continue to work hard to ensure things go as smoothly as possible for everyone this winter. There are still many ways in which the community can help us in this effort: by abiding by government restrictions, maintaining the behaviours we know can help keep us safe and being mindful not to risk putting any unnecessary pressure on our health and emergency services. Of course, many of those who have worked extremely hard all year to protect our community (not just on the front line) will be hoping to spend some much-needed time with their own families. Please be mindful that they need your help and common sense to ensure they are able to have a proper break over the Christmas period. Equally, all of those who must work the festive period regardless, will be hoping for a peaceful time. Let’s do our best to support them however we can.
One of the messages coming out of government recently is to make sure you let plenty of fresh air into your homes - particularly during periods when spending time with those outside of your household or support group is permitted. Inevitably, we all have to spend more time indoors over the winter months, but good ventilation can help reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus. So open a window if you are planning on having people round and, of course, maintain social distance wherever possible.
This week has also seen developments relating to grants to support businesses. We have been encouraging anyone who thinks their business may be eligible for the Additional Restrictions Grant to apply via our collection portal, which can be found on our website. This grant is aimed at those businesses operating from non-business rated premises and expressions of interest must be made by 4pm on Monday 30 November. So if you think you’re eligible and wish to apply, please ensure you make your application at the following link by the deadline: Additional Restrictions Grant.
There are many other things going on around the council as we continue to adapt and respond to the pandemic. I would like to take the opportunity to thank all of the staff who continue to provide services in light of so much new guidance and in unusual circumstances. If you have not done so already, you may wish to join the Council’s new ‘Keep Scilly Safe’ Facebook page for news of local services and support to make this winter a little easier, from testing to wellbeing to befriending to financial support.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that was enough to be getting on with in one week, but there have been plenty of important developments in other areas of the Council too. For one thing, we are excited that plans for the first of our proposed housing sites are progressing, specifically the Self and Custom build scheme in Old Town. This will help to address the Council’s Corporate Plan objective to “lead on the delivery of 30 new homes to support the future needs of the islands” by providing serviced plots to meet the demand for self and custom build opportunities on the islands. A consultation on the plans and progress to date will be running via the Council webpage from Monday 30 November until Monday 14 December.
My next update will be issued when we have emerged from this lockdown, so I would like to sum up by asking you to continue to do everything in your power to ensure the return of the tier system does not result in a spike in cases. It can be tempting to view coming out of a lockdown as a time for celebration, but we must keep in mind why we are doing all of this and the ultimate aim of protecting our vital health services and the people we love. The government’s decision to allow greater freedoms over the Christmas period has, I’m sure, given us all something to look forward to. I for one, am certainly excited to be able to spend some happier times with my family. So, let’s all keep working to ensure this relaxation of the restrictions can occur as planned and that it doesn’t become a set back to the excellent job we’ve all done in keeping Scilly safe.
Thank you for your continuing effort and consideration.
With best wishes
Robert Francis, Chairman of the Council of the Isles of Scilly